Controversy over the Management of Horses

By Julia King

Cedar Mountain Wild Horse Gather Image Credit: BLM

Controversy over the management of feral horses and burros has heightened with Wyoming suing the federal government and the Western Governors’ Association issuing a resolution on the topic this month.

Feral horses and burros are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The population of feral horses on federal lands continues to increase well above appropriate management levels, along with increasing costs to manage those animals. Lack of funding coupled with a decrease in demand for adopted horses and burros caused the BLM to remove fewer horses and burros from the land in fiscal year 2014 – only 1,863 animals, compared to 4,176 last fiscal year – stirring controversy over their management.

The decreased removal of feral horses has led Wyoming to sue the federal government for failing to properly manage the feral horse population. Wyoming is currently home to 3,771 horses, more than seven times the defined appropriate management level of 475 horses. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said that the large amount of horses in the state are degrading lands and harming important wildlife habitat.

The Western Governors’ Association is also concerned that the overpopulated feral horses on federal lands are degrading the land, including grazing lands and habitat for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). In their resolution, the association states that the federal government’s inability to control feral horse and burro populations is an immediate concern and argues the BLM needs to be appropriated the resources to properly manage feral horses and burros in the western U.S.

The Wildlife Society actively supports the scientific management and removal of excess feral horses and burros from western rangelands. TWS is a founding member of the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition and regularly provides testimony to the BLM’s National Horse & Burro Advisory Board.

For more information on the ecological impact of wild horses and burros refer to TWS’s Feral Horses and Burros: Impacts of Invasive Species Fact Sheet and Position Statement.

Sources: Bureau of Land Management (December 11, 2014), E&E News PM (December 8, 2014), Greenwire (December 9, 2014), and Western Governors’ Association (December 6, 2014)